The Pretrial Process
Once a defendant is arrested by federal agents, the Pretrial Services Officer conducts a quick but very thorough investigation about the defendant. The majority of the information is provided by the defendant during an interview shortly after arrest, which is normally conducted just prior to the defendant’s first appearance in court. After interviewing the defendant, the officer will either verify the defendant’s information, contradict it, or obtain additional information. The officer’s investigation may include contacting the defendant’s family, friends, associates, employer, law enforcement agencies, and/or financial institutions. The information provided by the defendant is not used to determine guilt rather his/her suitability for release from federal custody.
The Pretrial Services Officer’s job is to identify defendants who are likely to fail to appear at future court hearings or are likely to present a danger to society. The officer must balance the presumption that the defendant is “innocent until proven guilty” with the reality that some defendant may flee the jurisdiction or present a threat to the community.
If the Pretrial Services Officer believes there is a likelihood that the defendant may fail to appear in court the officer recommends a financial bond, which the defendant or the defendant’s “surety” (usually a family member, business associate or close friend) would forfeit should the defendant fail to appear in court. In addition, the officer may recommend conditions of release such as: prohibiting the possession of weapons, or do not use alcohol or drugs; restricting the defendant’s travel and/or with whom the defendant associates; requiring the defendant to seek and maintain employment; obtain education or training; or surrender a passport; among others. Release conditions are tailored to the individual defendant but always include the universal condition that the defendant not commit a federal, state, or local crime during the period of release. In any case, it is the Pretrial Services Officer’s statutory responsibility to recommend the least restrictive conditions that would reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court. If no combination of conditions would ensure future appearance, or if the defendant is viewed as danger to the community, detention is then recommended.
Once the investigation is completed, the Pretrial Officer submits a report to the court with the appropriate recommendation which assists the court in making an informed decision regarding the defendant’s release or detention pending trial. If the defendant is ordered released on bond, Pretrial Services will supervise the defendant until his or her case is either dismissed, acquitted, or sentence is commenced.
In supervising defendants, officers serve as agents of the court ensuring that released defendants comply with the court-ordered release conditions, thereby assisting with their needs pending trial while promoting law-abiding behavior. Specifically, the Pretrial Services Officer’s supervision duties include: conducting regular interviews with defendants in the Pretrial Services Office and at their place of residence; verifying they are employed or seeking employment; monitoring their compliance with drug and alcohol treatment or mental health counseling; arranging for educational or vocational training for them; assisting them in finding employment, and referring them to appropriate community resources.
In instances where a defendant needs 24-hour monitoring in the home or elsewhere in the community, Pretrial Services supervision may also include location monitoring.
It is the duty of Pretrial Services to inform the court of any violations the defendant incurs while on bond. Should the defendant fail to report to Pretrial Services as instructed or not comply with any of the court-ordered conditions, he/she may be brought before the judge for stricter conditions or remanded back into custody.
Benefits of Supervision
Community-based supervision of defendants provides an important and significant benefit as a major cost-saving alternative to jail or prison. It costs approximately $60 per day to house a defendant in the federal prison system as compared to less than $8 per day to supervise a defendant in the community.
An effective program of supervision helps protect the public by reducing the risks that persons under supervision will commit future crimes, while providing necessary services to assist the defendant in coping with daily issues and problems pending completion of the federal criminal case. As an alternative to incarceration, pretrial supervision allows federal defendants to remain with their families, maintain employment, receive needed services, and provide support for them to be productive members of society.